Thursday, April 4, 2019

Hadestown (Broadway)


Anaïs Mitchell's marvelous folk opera about Orpheus and Eurydice has had a long road to Broadway. What began as a simple stage version in 2006 in Vermont evolved into a concept album in 2010 that won many admirers. Not long after that, Rachel Chavkin came aboard to develop and eventually direct a new stage version for New York Theatre Workshop in 2016 that won wide acclaim, including from me. (See The intimacy of that production with the audience surrounding the performers on three sides made a Broadway transfer challenging, but there was probably no one better equipped to meet that challenge than Ms. Chavkin who had solved a similar problem with Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. After the off-Broadway run, the show moved out of town — way out of town — to Edmonton, Alberta for further work and then, in a smart move, to London’s National Theatre. Now it has finally reached the Walter Kerr Theatre. I was eager to experience the show again and see how it had been adapted for a large proscenium stage. Fortunately, most of the creative team has remained intact. What has been lost in intimacy has been counterbalanced by enhanced production values. The elaborate set by Rachel Hauck (What the Constitution Means to Me, Tiny Beautiful Things), which suggests a New Orleans bar, comes complete with walls that expand and contract and three concentric revolves, the innermost of which both rises and falls. The costumes by Michael Krass (Noises Off, Machinal) vaguely suggesting an earlier time, are more elaborate. The stylized choreography by David Neumann (An Octoroon) has been pumped up. Happily the two cast members who most impressed me before, Peter Page (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Casa Valentina) as Hades and Amber Gray (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812; Oklahoma! at Bard) as Persephone, are back. Eva Noblezada (Miss Saigon) portrays Eurydice as both feisty and wearied by deprivation. The role of Hermes, our narrator and emcee, has been beefed up for Andre De Shields (The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’) who stops just short of chewing the scenery. The three Fates (Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad) are fine in full Andrews Sisters mode and occasionally even play instruments. The workers chorus is also excellent. The seven onstage musicians are splendid, especially trombonist Brian Drye. If you have been paying close attention, you may have noticed that I have not said anything yet about Orpheus. Alas, Reeve Carney (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, “Penny Dreadful”), whom I have admired elsewhere, is miscast as Orpheus. Much of the role requires singing falsetto and his falsetto is far from pretty. Furthermore, he does not display much charisma and there is little chemistry between him and Ms. Noblezada. You might think that a miscast lead would be a near-fatal flaw, but the rest of the show is so strong and so enjoyable that it is little more than a lost opportunity of minor consequence. While there are aspects of the plot, such as the nature of Hadestown as an industrial dystopia of indentured workers, that remain a bit murky, the plot is not the big draw. The score, with its New Orleans jazz, gospel and blues accents, is the main attraction. Those expecting a traditional Broadway show (like the couple next to me who fled at intermission) may be disappointed, because it is at heart a through-sung folk opera. The rest of us will be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy something different. Ms. Mitchell must be prescient: a song she wrote at least ten years ago, “Why We Build the Wall,” has taken on new resonance these days. Running time: two hours 25 minutes including intermission.

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